Troubled by the 2004 heat-related death of a New Mexico farmworker, Rep. Raúl Grijalva is introducing a bill Wednesday that would require the federal government to set workplace rules on heat exposure and treating employees who may have endured too much.
The issue has special relevance in Arizona, where triple-digit heat is a regular occurrence, and as temperatures are expected to continue rising due to climate change, Grijalva, D-Ariz., said.
“Soaring temperatures already plague Arizona’s workforce, and conditions will only worsen as climate change contributes to more extreme heat conditions,” he said in a statement.
The Arizona Democrat, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, told his House colleagues the issue is “deeply personal” after hearing of the death of Asuncion Valdivia, who had a fatal stroke after picking grapes for 10 straight hours in 105-degree temperatures.
“He fell over, unconscious. Instead of calling an ambulance, his employer told his son to drive Mr. Valdivia home,” Grijalva wrote. “On his way home, the father starting foaming at the mouth and died of heat stroke. A son had to witness his father die a preventable death at the age of 53. This death was completely avoidable, yet his story is not unique.”
The Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act would set federal heat standards that ensure the safety and health of workers.
Farmworkers and construction workers suffer the highest rates of heat illness, Grijalva said, but other industries, such as warehouse workers, can also face excessive heat.
California, Minnesota and Washington already have heat-stress standards. Grijalva pointed to a Texas municipality that implemented a program for outdoor city workers in 2011. The number of heat-related illnesses fell, and worker’s compensation costs did, too, he said.